Mars: War Logs is one of the most confusing names for a game in recent memory. I don’t know how many times I have said it wrong. I mention this because it is a tell-tale description for the game. War Logs is a sci-fi RPG that never seems to get its feet on the ground in any area, but still retains enough good ideas to keep it afloat. This ten hour adventure is full of excellent concepts and the occasional moment of brilliance, all locked behind its mediocre exterior. It is the kind of game I wanted to love, the more I played it.
The experience starts out rough, there is no getting around that. The opening showcases Innocence (yes that is really his name) as he is being transported to a prison on Mars. Innocence is not the main character of the game, but instead its narrator. He will chronicle the experience as players go along in the shoes of Roy, a mysterious renegade who appears to save Innocence from being part of clichéd prison routine in the showers.
War Logs wears its poor translation and dialogue on its sleeve. The opening sequence is both uncomfortable, and poorly delivered. When a game names its characters “Fatso” and “Charity”, my suspect meter rises to full. I am not sure if it is entirely lost in the translation, or if it was intentional, but until I got an understanding of the rest of experience, War Logs came off as a really poor attempt at the genre.
Everything here is set up like a standard western RPG. Side quests come in the form of fetching miscellaneous items for random NPCs and main objectives sprout up after exchanging dialogue. There is a morality system within the game, though it never felt balanced. Performing kind acts rarely moves the bar up, and the bonuses and perks for playing as a crass prisoner are mostly pointless. It feels like a checkbox more than anything else, and an excuse to put some ridiculous dialogue choices into the game. Essentially they all lead to the same conclusion, so I kept asking myself “why even bother?”
Combat is something of an enigma at first. Video games have trained me over the years on certain ways to play them. Toss in a monkey wrench, and I quickly become agitated. Things start off by introducing the hand-to-hand combat. It feels like a generic Arkham Asylum, but with heftier consequences. Simply mashing a button or hammering the counter mechanic doesn’t work. Every enemy has the potential to wipe out players by themselves, let alone most encounters involve multiple foes. Once the basics are transparent, obeying them is a challenge. Every move has to be considered, and blocking requires facing the opponent. It takes time, but once mastered, I appreciated what they were doing that much more.
The first time I was given a gun I immediately thought the experience would evolve into a standard third-person shooter. Instead, projectile weapons are equipped to one of several hotkeys that can be used while still performing melee actions. So, for example, having the nail gun equipped to the left bumper of a 360 controller allows firing, while still dispatching foes with melee. This is difficult to master, and the finicky lock-on targeting doesn’t help matters. Still, after spending time with the system, it was clear that the developers really designed it well. They just should have explained it much better.
AS with any good RPG there is also a leveling system, complete with branching skill tree. The standard options apply by dealing out more health, as well as decreasing damage taken. Leveling is quick and earning new perks helps aid the combat along. Just make sure to read all the descriptions, as the game does a poor job of conveying a lot of its systems. There is also a pseudo-crafting system in place that allows weapon modification. Collecting parts and scrap throughout the environment allows for the creation of new armor and weapon mods for increased damage. Again, this isn’t explained all that well, which left me digging through menus until I got the hang of it.
The core game will run about ten hours or more considering how much exploring the player chooses to do. There are side quests, though none of them were overly exciting. At the beginning of the second act things spice up a bit by giving the player new powers to toy around with, as well as introducing some new characters and tactics. It is telling that while the game only lasts around ten hours, it feels perfectly suited for that. Most RPGs like this run three to four times that length, but if War Logs had lasted that long, it would have overstayed its welcome.
Visually the game looks decent considering the budget. Animations can be stiff, and locations are often recycled, but the design is there. I could clearly see that the game’s shortcomings were more stemmed from lack of funds as opposed to care. The audio is a hot mess with some of the worst voice acting performances I have heard in a while.
Mars: War Logs has flashes of brilliance, mostly stemming from its combat system. I really wanted to love the game more than I did, but it continuously disappointed me with simple flaws. I would like to see more of War Logs, just in a more polished fashion. What the team is doing here is commendable, and with a little more polish, and possibly funds, it could easily become a solid series. Until then though, this budget title definitely feels like just that.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.
- Motherboard: ASUS P8Z77I Deluxe
- Liquid Cooling: Origin Frostbyte 120 Liquid Cooling
- Processor: Intel i7 3770K with Professional Origin PC Overclocking
- Memory: Corsair 8GB 1600 Mghz Vengeance
- Graphics Card: EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670